Can Your Heart Hurt From Stress?

Stressed young woman feeling pain and touching chest suffer from heartache disease at home while having heart attack, infarction

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Yes, in short, it's possible for your heart to hurt from stress. Some of us may feel deeply attuned to how our body expresses stress. For instance, you may feel pain in your heart or somewhere in your chest.

This article will explore why your heart can hurt from stress, when it may not be related to stress, and things you can do to start feeling better. 

Can Your Heart Really Hurt From Stress?

It turns out that sensations in our hearts can be part of our body’s fight-or-flight response.

Chest Contractions

It isn’t uncommon to have your heart rate quicken when confronted with a dangerous situation. Your heart and other muscles can contract more strongly. This muscular contraction in your chest might feel like a sharp shooting pain or a jump that makes you lose your breath for a moment.

This is due to the release of the body’s stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline when we are experiencing acute stress, like an unexpected altercation or car accident. Generally when the stress has passed, our bodies' reaction to it will subside. 

Is My Chest Pain Due to a Panic Attack?

There are some circumstances where the chest pain will be much more severe—this pain might even require a trip to the hospital. For example, your chest pain might be indicative of a panic attack. In fact, one study reported 58% of those who visit the hospital for chest pain have anxiety and stress-related contributions. 

Panic attacks are the sudden onset of intense episodes of fear or discomfort accompanied by a variety of severe physical reactions. They are known to create feelings of being in acute danger even when there is no danger present.

Panic Attack Symptoms Might Feel Like a Heart Attack

There are somatic symptoms associated with panic attacks that can mimic a heart attack. This can be a racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing, stomach pain and nausea, and chest pain.

You may also feel that same type of chest pain associated with a stress response where there is a shooting pain or a feeling of a jump in your chest. 

Although estimates vary, 30% to 40% of those who visit the hospital for chest pain are experiencing an anxiety or panic attack.

Recurrent panic attacks with other accompanying symptoms may warrant a diagnosis of panic disorder.

If you’re experiencing panic attacks regularly, seeking out the support of a mental health professional can help determine if you’re experiencing panic disorder. 

When Is Chest Pain More Than Just Stress?

When it comes to chronic stress, there are additional concerns to be aware of. Chronic stress is the type of stress that is ongoing (e.g. living in poverty or being in a toxic relationship).

This form of stress can not only produce anxiety-related heart pain, but it can also increase the risk for heart disease.

Severe Chest Pain Might Be a Sign of a Heart Attack

While there can be many causes of chest pain, it is critical to know the signs of a heart attack. A heart attack is caused when the consistent flow of oxygen to the heart becomes blocked, potentially leading the heart muscle to die if blood flow doesn’t return. 

Heart Attack Warning Signs

Below are some warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain
  • Upper body pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Sweatiness
  • Nausea

Can Your Heart Hurt After a Breakup or Loss?

Broken heart syndrome is a relatively rare and generally reversible, condition that is characterized by chest pain, breathlessness, fainting, or even cardiac arrest.

Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken heart syndrome (also known as stress-induced or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy) can occur after an acute stress such as the loss of a loved one or a painful breakup. The stress hormones that are triggered cause changes in heart muscle that prevent the ventricle from pumping properly.

Broken heart syndrome is most common in post-menopausal women. If you’ve been under stress and are experiencing some of these symptoms, it is best to get in touch with your medical provider to rule out potential cardiac causes of heart-related symptoms before assuming it is anxiety or "stress." 

What to Do If You’re Chronically Stressed

If you’re consistently stressed, it is imperative to employ stress management techniques.

There are times when it isn’t possible to change our circumstances to decrease stress, but it is worth assessing your current stressors to see what is in your control and what is beyond your control.

Try This Exercise to Asses Your Stress Levels

  • Grab a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle—creating two columns
  • Label the left column “Things I Can Control:” In this column, write down all the stressful things in your life that you can control. For example, if you have a challenging friendship, it may be possible to set boundaries that decrease your stress.
  • On the right column, label it “Things I Cannot Control.” In this column, you can jot down things that are outside of your control, like financial stress when you’re actively seeking a new position.

This exercise can be helpful in noticing where you may be able to change some of your stressors and seeing what support you may need to cope with the things that are outside of your control.

Stress Management Techniques to Try

Decreasing your stress levels is important for your general health. To manage your stress levels try the following techniques:

  • Mindful Meditation: Meditation and mindfulness can be helpful in decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also can decrease high blood pressure and enhance sleep quality. You can get started by trying out this loving-kindness meditation.
  • Journaling: Sometimes writing down all of your thoughts can aid in relieving your stress.
  • Talk to a friend or loved one: Opening up with someone you trust can help you get some perspective on whatever issue you may be dealing with.
  • Consider going to therapy: If you're dealing with chronic stress, a therapist will help you to work through your stressors and determine if you may have underlying mental health conditions.
7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Musey PI, Lee JA, Hall CA, at al. Anxiety about anxiety: a survey of emergency department provider beliefs and practices regarding anxiety-associated low risk chest pain. BMC Emerg Med. 2018;18:10. doi:10.1186/s12873-018-0161-x

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms

  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is a Heart Attack? 

  5. Boyd B, Solh T. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy: Review of broken heart syndrome. JAAPA. 2020;33(3):24-29.

  6. Vakamudi M. ’Broken-heart syndrome’… Be aware.. Indian J Anaesth. 2016;60(3):155. doi: 10.4103/0019-5049.177863

  7. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Meditation and Mindfulness: What You Need to Know.

By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.